Editor's take: Mahler makes plenty of good points. Hyping a product is expected but telling outright lies so more people purchase before release is unethical at best, potentially illegal at worst. Consumers have been warned not to pre-order games for decades, yet it still happens and will doubtlessly continue.
Game designers who make big promises about upcoming titles only for consumers to be disappointed upon their release is something we're used to seeing. Thomas Mahler, Moon Studios founder and director of the Ori series, is sick of it and has branded those guilty of such action, including the makers of Cyberpunk 2077 and No Man's Sky, "snake oil salesmen."
In a post on ResetEra titled "Why are gamers so eager to trust and even forgive the snake oil salesmen?" Mahler writes that the practice began with British game designer Peter Molyneux, the man behind the Fable and Black & White series.
"He was the master of 'Instead of telling you what my product is, let me just go wild with what I think it could be and get you all excited!" - And that was fine, until you actually put your money down and then the game was nothing like what Peter was hyping it up to be."
Mahler goes on to single out Sean Murray, founder of No Man's Sky creator Hello Games. Murray hyped NMS so much before release that the studio received death threats when it was delayed by around six weeks. But that excitement turned into disappointment after the game arrived with missing features, bugs, and other issues. The discrepancy between what we were promised and what we got led to an investigation by the UK's advertising standards agency and Valve requiring actual in-game screenshots for Steam listings.
Following years of patches and new content, No Man's Sky is now close to the game Murray initially promised, helping the game win several awards—something Mahler takes issues with.
"They [Hello Games] released a bunch of updates, so let's forget about the initial lies and deception and hey, let's actually shower him with awards again, cause he finally kinda sorta delivered on what he said the game would be years earlier. Thanks, Geoff Keighley. Rewarding that kinda behavior will surely help the industry grow stronger."
Mahler saves most of his vitriol for Cyberpunk 2077. The issues experienced by CD Projekt Red's RPG are well documented. The company has since released an apology video, claiming CDPR's testing didn't show many of the problems encountered by players. It also denied the famous E3 demo was "almost entirely fake."
"Here the entire CDPR PR department took all the cues from what worked for Molyneux and Murray and just went completely apeshit with it," writes Mahler. "Every video released by CDPR was carefully crafted to create a picture in players minds that was just insanely compelling. They stopped just short of outright saying that this thing would cure cancer. This strategy resulted in a sensational 8 million pre-orders."